March 18, 2009
Last week the Czech prime minister, Mr Topolanek, has lobbied hard for the admission of Croatia in the European Union. Talking to EurActiv, he stated that stopping EU enlargement is a “road to hell”.
According to him, many EU members would favour the admission of Croatia, but delay accession talks with Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro or Albania. The wisdom of such an enlargement strategy is anybody’s guess.
What Mr Topolanek does not seem to understand is the fact that the European Union needs time to assimilate its new members before committing to further expansion. If we take enlargement history as a guide, we notice that there is a twenty-year interval between the accession of Spain and Portugal (1986) and that of the 12 new Central and South European members (2004-2007). (The admission of Austria, Finland and Sweden during the 90’s has not stretched the Union’s resources, as those countries’ overall performance was equal to or higher than the EU average).
Furthermore, experience shows that the newest members are also the hardest to integrate successfully, given their post-Soviet hangovers and economic or judicial handicaps. They have yet to achieve the level of economic and infrastructure development, or monetary and fiscal discipline enjoyed by older Union countries. This, alas, takes time, it cannot be accomplished within a decade. In fact, at least two full decades are needed before their integration can be called a success and new members could be admitted. As we now stand, even countries like the Czech Republic have problems accepting a higher level of political integration and, on occasion, its leaders mistake the euro for the Soviet ruble.
A better EU strategy could ultimately be to admit all Western Balkan countries in one wave at some later date. After all, most, if not all were formerly part of the now-defunct Yugoslavia. Admitting Croatia but refusing to consider Serbia’s bid to join, could prove politically unwise. Fast-tracking Montenegro’s membership application, on the other hand, will not wipe out organised crime over there anytime soon. Albania should be given the same sporting chance as its neighbours to join the Union, but only after it deals with its serious economic and social troubles. This way, former Yugoslav republics would probably understand that the Union does not reward fratricide, interethnic wars, quite the opposite. And finally, the leaders of newly-admitted countries should avoid embarking on lobbying efforts on behalf of Balkan countries, hoping for economic advantages in the region.Florian Pantazi